Following a treasure map... that is what geocaching is like, except the "X" that marks the spot is given in GPS coordinates and the treasure might just be the thrill of the hunt.
Wikipedia defines geocaching as "an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world." Caches might be a large bin or lockbox, or a small coffee can, and "micro-caches" are often tiny pill bottles, matchboxes, spent bullet casings or plastic film containers. The contents, or "stash," usually consists of a small paper log and pencil for finders to check in and small trinkets, the odder the better. It has always been standard convention for seekers to take a trinket and leave one of their own, but many cache-hunters don't bother with either.
Whether you enjoy solving puzzles, exploring, hiking or just being outdoors, geocaching is something you may love. In these days of social isolation, it is an activity that can bring much happiness. We have found caches hidden inside hollow tree trunks, hanging from tree branches, wedged between boulders, stuck on the side of a steel utility box and stuffed into a support pole of a culvert's guard rail.
You may have heard of the Fenn's Fortune, a hidden treasure of $1 million that wealthy art and antiquities dealer Forrest Fenn hid somewhere in the Rocky Mountain wilderness in 2010. He then published a poem of clues in his autobiography and treasure seekers have been hunting for the cache ever since. It has now been reported that the treasure chest was found in New Mexico. I bring up Fenn's treasure because clues are now being used in geocaching more and more. You use the GPS coordinates to get close and then solving published clues or riddles help you to the cache itself.
Cache hunters use popular websites and apps like Geocache.com or ExpertGPS (formerly GeoBuddy) to get a list of caches in their vicinity, along with the GPS coordinates, otherwise people wouldn't know what was hidden in their area. These sites are used by the hiders as well so that seekers will be able to look for their stash. Once equipped with targets, hunters use their smartphones, GPS devices or car navigation to go to the coordinates. An included blurb normally gives a brief description of the cache and hints about where you might find it. Also important to us is how long it has been since the cache was last reported to be found. Weather, construction, vandals or other environmental influences can cause a cache to be missing completely, and the owner of the treasure might not know it yet. If something hasn't been reported found within the last year, we know chances are slim that we would find it in our own search.
A few widely-accepted rules help the process. Most geocaching sites will not allow burying a cache and you must not hide one on private property unless it has free public access and you have permission from the property owners. Similarly, it should not be hidden in dangerous spots, like halfway up a steep incline, on a cliff or in the middle of a stream, and parking should be available somewhere nearby. Many of these cache containers are painted green, which is allowed, but it can make it difficult to find in a tree or bush even if in plain sight. Popular sites and apps include a difficulty rating as well.
All of this so we can call out loud, "I found it!" No matter how frustrated we might get from failure, the next find more than makes up for it. Geocache hunting is also one of the few outdoor activities in which social distancing is built in. The search gets us outdoors and I often combine a photo shoot with the activity, doubling my enjoyment of the day.
There were fewer contributors of comments this time around, probably due to the number of people we know for which geocaching is a mystery. Here are some of the comments I've received (I've paraphrased or edited some of them):
Andrea A.- We had one experience at our Gunnison camp out. It was interesting to learn how to use our GPS coordinates to find the "treasure." Because several teams were searching, it was competitive and exciting. The reward is not the trinket found, but in the satisfaction of successfully figuring out the puzzle.
Kathy H.- Now that Fenn's Fortune has been found, I'm done for now! But he did once say that he wanted people to get out and explore nature and that the treasure was an incentive.
Nadyne H.- Geocaching is one of the perfect activities during a quarantine! We enjoy searching for geocaches in various places but since being in quarantine, it's just more interesting! Remember to take cleansing wipes with you so you can clean your hands after looking in each geocache and writing in the log.
Cindy V.- It is always a lot of fun!
Jeanne W.- I’m not good at it! Or my phone’s not good at it. Anyway, I had to cheat to find the one at the last camp out at Grape Creek (in Colorado). It was still great fun.
Kelsey K.- Geocaching has taken us to some cool places that we didn’t even know existed! The grandkids used to love to go with us!
Warren and Terry of NE PA- Geocaching brings you to areas you may not have known about, sometimes even in an area you're familiar with. Also, it gets me out for exercise and moving. I have a back problem that hurts more just sitting or standing in one place, so it's great to move around. These outings have also helped lose about 75 lbs. in 2 years.
Steviegcampingmachine- Been a cacher for 20 years, used to do it as a scout leader teaching kids how to use GPS. Get some miles on and see nature. Do it!
I'll finish with an oft-heard quote from frustrated cache seekers. "I love it when the cache owner says that it's easy to find. Sure, it's easy for them. They hid it!" --unknown
Jack Huber is a writer, blogger, poet and photographer. Like many, he is concerned about the psyche of our planet's inhabitants and wants to try to improve his little corner of it.